SD No. 46: The Right Direction

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I heard a terrific retirement, “do you remember when”, story at the recent Sunshine Coast Teachers’ Association retirement celebration. One teacher, Barry, said that he and his teaching partner, Mike, would often be out on field trips with their students. At various points in the day Barry would be at the front of the group of students and Mike would be watching from the end of the line.  Barry would check in on the students with Mike with a glance back. Mike would quickly flash the, “OK”, signal and on they and their charges would go.

I have an image of the two of them, marching along a path on a field trip or in more regular classroom lessons and activities, checking in with each other as partners as they move through the days of learning and teaching.

I love this simple story. It is a terrific metaphor for who teachers and all educational staff are and what they do.

“Are the kids okay? Are we going in the right direction?”

“Yes! The kids are okay. We’ve got them all.”

Parents invest such trust in their children’s educators. They trust that we will keep their children safe. They trust that we will provide the excellent education that B.C. schools are so well known for. They trust that we will talk with them about academic and social challenges and successes that their children experience at school. They trust that our hearts are in the right place and that their children are our priority. They trust that the kids are okay.

We are in the last couple of weeks of school for 2011/ 2012.  Stories of exciting moments in education are being shared at retirement celebrations and end of the year gatherings. I love to hear the stories of mutual support, of love for students and their learning, of the enthusiasm that makes educators special and makes the work so rewarding. I hear the stories of dedication to public education, to kids and to each other.

Thank you to all staff in our district for a challenging but still wonderful year for students.

Thank you to the retiring staff of SD No. 46. You have dedicated your professional lives to changing students’ lives, to supporting colleagues and to making things better.  You are special, and you have made a difference.

“Are the kids okay? Are we going in the right direction?”

“Yes! The kids are okay. We’ve got them all. “

“Let’s keep going.”

Teachers and Principals gathered with trustees and senior administration at the annual retirement luncheon to celebrate their dedication to students and each other. Best wishes to all!


Twenty-Year Old Energy

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My niece posted a saying on FaceBook that I’ve been thinking about:

Live your life. Take chances. Don’t wait. Because right now you are the oldest you’ve ever been and the youngest you’ll ever be…ever again.
The viewpoint of a twenty year old student reminds me of the energy and, could it be called “perkiness”?, of starting new things with new people. Most of us have a context to live in. We know what we can do and what we can’t do. We have systems built through tradition, logic or both. We know the rules and we typically work within them. We have adapted to the systems we entered as young adults and, in many ways, we make sure they continue as they were upon our arrival.
Young people aren’t so concerned with all that “stuff”. They are learning in colleges and universities about things they care about; they engage with their peers and their eyes are opening  to new ideas and new patterns of interaction. They’re excited about the opportunities of the world they are entering and they are determined to see if there is a better way.They don’t accept systems at face value: they challenge the status quo and push at tradition. Their attitudes can be scary for those who have been successful in “our” systems. Their fresh viewpoint, without the brakes that we automatically apply, is both energizing and intimidating!
On the Sunshine Coast our school district has begun to define a new model of professional inquiry for all teachers and principals. At our recent introductory session we discussed what this initiative (a change in some of what we do) will look like over the next three years. We discussed why inquiry is effective and what teachers and principals are truly interested in learning to support their professional growth. Many told me of the energy they feel as they look forward to sharing new insights with their colleagues. They talked about ideas that are new to them. They met colleagues they have not interacted with before and began discussions that could go on for years as they explore their professional passions. Inquiry is not new to many of them, we have amazing expertise on the Coast. Many want to get going with the excitement of learning with their colleagues as soon as they can and some have already have begun!
Sounds like twenty-year old energy to me!
At a recent event, the B.C. Ministry of Education program department leaders discussed their openness to innovation. They referenced their flexibility for school districts to discuss school year calendar change in their communities and to develop innovative and enhanced opportunities for students. They asked if there are structures or processes that are in place right now that are interfering with the ability of school districts to make change that will support teaching and learning. They want to support creative work that will enhance student learning.
The Ministry is excited by new ideas, new initiatives and people working together on a professional level. Their contagious enthusiasm is energizing our province to embrace innovation and to research best practices. Their flexibility will support creative teaching options and more open-ended opportunities for students.
Sounds like twenty-year old energy to me!
I hear principals talking about options and possibilities in their schools. I hear the School District No. 46 (Sunshine Coast) trustees I work with talking about pathways for students and asking questions about how we support their teachers and support staff to meet student needs. I hear members of the British Columbia School Superintendents’ Association (BCSSA) talking about the exciting learning opportunities that are taking place in their districts.
These, too, sound like twenty-year old energy to me!
Motivation and support for exciting innovative work in education is here right now. Teachers, principals, superintendents and the Ministry of Education want all of our students to have the very best of opportunities in our public school system. They always have. We have, right now, this commonality, this focus, and this mutual support for excellence in our province.
Live your life. Take chances. Don’t wait! Because right now you are the oldest you’ve ever been and the youngest you’ll ever be…ever again.
That’s what twenty-year old energy sounds like!
That’s what education in British Columbia feels like!

Pride and Energy

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Education in B.C. is running through a tough time right now. Labour issues are distracting us from focusing on teaching and learning. There are other matters to discuss and challenges to confront. Where do we find our energy when challenging times come along? How do we maintain our pride in public education?

We find it in our schools.

The trustees of SD No. 46 (Sunshine Coast) and our Secretary-Treasurer and I recently spent two days touring all of our learning sites. Principals told us of their plans and dreams for their schools. They proudly guided us around and we chatted with our amazing teaching staff. The teachers boasted of the accomplishments of their students. We watched innovative teaching strategies and learned more about the diverse programs offered to our students. Most importantly, the trustees and I saw motivated students working with bright eyes and energy on their learning. From kindergarten children with their inquisitiveness and natural exploration to high school students taking apart engines, performing dramatic presentations, displaying beautiful artistic expression and engaging in sophisticated academic learning, we were smiling for two days straight.

For those of us in education who do not spend all of our time in schools, we need reminders of the wonder that is education. These visits made us proud to be in our district, involved in education and taking our role forward at the trustee and senior team level. We are energized and looking forward to a bright future in public education on the Sunshine Coast.

Our sincere thanks to the principals and staff of our schools for their warm welcome.

Professional Development on the Sunshine Coast

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Today is a Pro-D day.

SD No. 46 (Sunshine Coast) teachers, principals and other staff are engaged in professional development activities that support their growth as educators. Many are looking at innovative strategies to address the needs of their students; others are acting as mentors to their colleagues. The commitment they demonstrate by being fully engaged in their own learning, being accountable for it and sharing their expertise with colleagues confirms what it means to be a professional teacher in British Columbia. By working together they are far more able to address the needs of their own students than by working in isolation. Further to this, working in collegial groups allows teachers to make a difference beyond their own classroom walls as they influence, support and enrich the professional lives of their colleagues.

As they look to the future of the district, the Sunshine Coast Board of Trustees have committed to investing in the professional learning of its staff as a multi-year commitment. The trustees believe in the professionalism of their staff to focus on what makes a difference to student learning as teachers and principals extend, share and innovate in the very sophisticated, challenging and exciting world of education. 





Squamish Nation Reconciliation

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I was honoured and humbled to attend a reconciliation session on the Squamish First Nation this week. The elders and Chief and Council invited non-aboriginal people from many walks of life into their longhouse to tell stories of residential school tragedy and heartbreak. They shared with us intimate details of pain and suffering that most Canadians cannot imagine. They reflected on abuses, on being taken from their families by government officials, and of being forced into a culture as very young children that they could not possibly understand. They spoke of not being parented and, therefore, not knowing how to parent their own children in later life. Much pain was shared.

And much hope was shared as well. This was not a session for hearing only but of telling as well! The Squamish people don’t want to forget these experiences, they want to reconcile their pain with an exciting future for their children. They do not believe that they live in isolation, but that they are a part of a world that offers opportunity for their youth.

At this session, they wanted to hear our stories as well. They want to know their neighbours who are not aboriginal so that together we will offer to their children, and our children, a world of respect of each others’ values, beliefs and experiences. The Squamish people are, as one elder told me, walking from one room to another room.

I felt welcome in the Squamish longhouse. I felt valued and respected. As a proud  Canadian, I look forward to returning that respect.


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The motto in Bill Clarke’s carpentry and joinery class at Elphinstone Secondary School in Gibsons is, “I CAN DO THAT!” Bill is teaching his students how to research, plan, problem-solve, communicate and safely complete a carpentry task. Students leave Bill’s classroom as confident learners ready to move on to the next stage in their development as carpenters.

The rest of my visit at Elphinstone confirmed for me yet again the exceptional quality and variety of education that Sunshine Coast students experience. I chatted with teachers who are passionate about their subjects and devoted to their students. They proudly described their programs, boasted of their students’ achievements and demonstrated exceptional student engagement as Principal Fred Thorsell and I observed their classes in action.  The teachers were using (and experimenting!) with technology to enhance learning. Engaged students chatted enthusiastically about their projects and studies.  I enjoyed a wonderful conversation with a group of students who described their school as positive and caring with great teachers who know and respect them as individuals.

As I reflect on the, “I CAN DO THAT!” philosophy from the carpentry class, I realize that it extends far beyond Bill’s class. The entire school has an, “I CAN DO THAT!” attitude. Teachers, administration, support staff and parents are involved together in making Elphinstone a great school.

The Ministry of Education has recently released the BC Education plan to put forward a vision for a positive and productive future for education.   As we discuss the BC Education Plan we need to embrace our proven  traditions that motivate and excite students in their learning. At the same time, it is our responsibility to learn about new, research-based ideas to teach for the changing world that our students are growing into.  Deep and engaging discussions about instruction, assessment, evaluation, technology, reporting and parent engagement are taking place across our province and around the world

Is it possible to take an educational system that was developed in a time very different from our own and update it?  Can we develop an educational system that is based on solid research, creativity and collaboration ?

We can look to Bill’s students to have the right attitude that will ensure our success.


Music Education on the Sunshine Coast


This weekend the combined bands of Pender Harbour, Chatelech and Elphinstone Secondary Schools performed in front of  a large audience at Camp Elphinstone. The spectacular presentation demonstrated the talent and dedication of the students, the teachers, and the community to music education on the Sunshine Coast. A short clip can be seen here of the combined bands in action.

The benefits of a sound music education are well researched and have been understood for thousands of years. Plato wrote, “Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul.” Martin Luther, just a few hundred years ago wrote, “Whoever has skill in music is of good temperament and fitted for all things. We must teach music in schools.” Modern educational research has consistently confirmed the academic, social and even physical benefits of music.

Music education is the epitome of modern pedagogy. Nowhere will you find better examples of personalized instruction than in the fine arts. Music teachers use formative assessment, positive reinforcement, and detailed and ongoing feedback with their students.  The student will have had many opportunities to refine his or her skills, using his or her preferred instrument, under the teacher’s guidance and support.  The final, summative musical performance is a demonstration of the many scaffolded steps that have taken place in the teaching and learning process. This weekend’s performances most certainly demonstrate our teachers’ solid grasp of what assessment for learning is all about.

In the face of competing time, priorities and resources, music education is central to a well educated student and, in many ways, is a model for instruction that other disciplines can learn from.

“Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere.”
–Albert Einstein
For further information on Formative and Summative Assessment please see this article . It is written from a Middle Schools perspective but is valid for all educators looking for a clear understanding of how formative and summative assessment can support excellence in education.

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